Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Eastpointer

Pay people as little as you can get away with!

By Richard E. Noble
At one point in our oyster catching career, a gallon of shucked oysters was selling for considerably more than what we could sell our bagged oysters. My wife and I decided that it would be to our advantage to hire a shucker. The dealer we sold to had a number of shucking stalls available. We went into the boss’ office and told him about our idea. He thought it was a great idea. He said he knew a number of shuckers who were looking for more work. He even offered to make inquiries on our behalf.
The oysters were fat and one bag was shucking out to one gallon. The boss would pay me considerably more for each gallon than he would for a bag. So Carol and I offered to share our new found wealth with our potential shucker. We told the boss that we were willing to pay more to have our bags shucked than the going price; our boss’ wife almost had a heart attack. His wife was his bookkeeper and she was working at another desk in the same office. "Oh don't do that," she said. "Let me give you a tip. You should always pay the shuckers as little as you possibly can. Never offer one shucker more than another shucker."
"Well," my wife Carol said, "we have never been the boss before and we don't want to make any enemies. We would rather pay the shucker a little more and keep her happy and doing a good job for us than offer her the-same-old-same-old and have her discontented."
Both of our bosses persisted with their point of view. But Carol and I insisted.
Strangely enough even though we were offering $2.00 more per gallon than the going rate, the boss couldn't seem to find us a shucker. And as it turned out we never did find a shucker. We ended up buying two shucking machines and shucking our own oysters while the price was good.
It has always seemed to me that my oyster boss' chant could actually be the American Businessman's National Anthem - Always pay the other guy as little as you can possibly get away with.
I was reading a book about the economy during the Colonial period and the same debate between the bosses and the workers was raging then.
Of course, during the Colonial period slave or indentured servant was the bosses’ preferred status for an employee. The indentured servant was not much above the chattel slave. Some thought that becoming a “wage slave” was in reality even worse than the chattel slave. Frederick Douglass, a former black slave himself, expressed this view after the Civil War when the chattel slaves from the South became wage earners after their emancipation. There was no upkeep cost to a wage slave. A chattel slave had to be housed, fed, and treated for medical problems – even if by a veterinarian. A sick slave could not tote that barge and lift that bale adequately. And a chattel slave could run up to $1500 each on the auction block – depending on condition. A wage slave could be hired by the hour or by the day and if he got sick and died another could be hired at no additional cost.
I thought this defense of higher wages by the Mechanics Trade Association very interesting:
"If the mass of people were enabled by their labor to secure for themselves and their families an abundant supply of the comforts and conveniences of life, the consumption of articles, particularly of dwellings, furniture and clothing would amount to at least twice the quantity it does at present, and of course the demand, by which alone employers are enabled to subsist or accumulate, would likewise be increased in equal proportion ... It is therefore the real interest (for instance) of the Hatter, that every man in the community should be able to clothe his own head and those of his family with an abundant supply of the best articles of that description; because the flourishing demand thereby created, and which depends altogether on the ability of the multitude to purchase, is that which alone enables him to pay his rent and support his family in comfort ..."
This is basically the argument for the establishment of the middle class and it was being argued in the American Colonies before the American Revolutionary War.
Unfortunately it is still being debated in today's America. Only once in my career did I meet an employer whose philosophy it was to pay his employees as much as he could afford and not as little as he could get away with.
If new, good paying jobs are started here in America, I wonder how long it will be before they are shipped overseas. When we get all those windmills operational how long before the motors are manufactured in Germany and the windmill blades shipped in from China. We need more than new jobs. We need a new economic philosophy.

Richard E. Noble is a freelance writer who has lived in Franklin County for over thirty years. All five of Richard’s books are now available on Amazon.com. If you would like to stock his books in your store or business, e-mail him at richardedwardnoble@gtcom.net